The 49ers – winners of five Super Bowls – enter the game as favourites against the experienced Ravens in the NFL’s showpiece decider, which will be viewed by millions.
Here are the players who will have the biggest say in Sunday’s outcome in New Orleans’ Superdome.
The Ravens signal-caller may not be as heralded as mega NFL stars Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but he out-duelled both in their own backyards en-route to New Orleans. The fifth-year player has had his share of critics in the past but has been on fire so far in the playoffs, throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. The quarterback possesses a rocket arm and will be looking to connect on deep passes to wide receiver Torrey Smith – one of the fastest players in the NFL. Flacco, 28, is a free agent at the end of the season, and could make himself a lot of money with a win in New Orleans, though the Ravens will be keen to hold onto him.
Lewis, 37, will be one of the biggest stories of the Super Bowl as he plays the last game of his storied career.
The veteran linebacker announced his retirement prior to the playoffs and his teammates’ desire to send their iconic leader out on top has been a big factor in their surge to the Super Bowl.
While he may have lost a step due to age he makes up for it with impeccable instincts, leading all tacklers in the playoffs with 44 – 18 more than any other player.
Rice, 26, is a pocket-sized powerhouse and Baltimore’s best offensive player – he will be key to their hopes of victory on Sunday. He excels in both running and catching the ball and therefore is difficult to account for, but he will have work cut out for him against the 49ers ferocious defence. The running back accounted for 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and is averaging over 100 yards in the playoffs, so look for the Ravens to get him involved early and often.
Kaepernick, in his second year, has taken the NFL by storm this season since taking over from incumbent starter Alex Smith after his injury against St. Louis in week 10. The fact Smith, a former number one overall draft pick, has been consigned to the bench since tells you all you need to know about how the 25-year-old has performed. He set the all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181 in his first playoff game against Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers but is a very accomplished thrower also. His meteoric rise has drawn comparisons to Brady in 2001, another second-year quarterback who took over from a former number one draft pick due to a midseason injury. Brady went on to win the Super Bowl in New Orleans that year – and three of the next four – but the jury is out on whether Kaepernick can do the same.
Crabtree, 25, is a player in red-hot form after enjoying a breakout season in 2012. The fourth-year receiver has been filling up the stat sheet since Kaepernick was installed at quarterback with the pair striking up a deadly rapport. He caught eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season finale against the Arizona Cardinals and is capable of a similar performance in New Orleans.
Willis, 28, is one of the top defensive players in the NFL and the emotional leader of the San Francisco team. He has earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honours every year since getting drafted by San Francisco in the first round in 2007. The 49ers ranked second in the NFL this season with 17.1 points allowed per game and Willis is a major reason why. It will be up to him to corral star Ravens running back Ray Rice.
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